Tips for Using Tablets in the Shop Part 2

Benefits

My previous instalment spoke to the cost of the tablets. Of course, we want to see if the benefits outweigh the costs, so here we go!

Whenever the usage of tablets is mentioned in a structural steel environment, the first thing that comes to mind is drawings. This is by far the most common usage for tablets in the shop, and it is also one of the biggest benefits. The tablet gives your employees immediate access to the drawings without them having to go outside of their area to locate the drawing they need.  

  1. Direct access to the latest drawings

Not only do they have immediate access, but the access is to the latest drawing. Improper revision control may be the largest culprit of rework in the shop. When a drawing is revised, the paper copies must be located and replaced. If you miss one, you may end up fabricating from the wrong drawing. The tablets give you the ability to give access only to the latest drawings, taking away the ability to see an old drawing.

Speaking of seeing drawings…our dimly lit shops and fine print on the drawings are a deterrent to actually being able to read drawings. I recently conducted a training on tablets for a company’s fabricators. As I showed them how to access drawings, one more aged and less technically proficient fabricator expressed his disdain that viewing the drawings on the tablet made it even harder for him to see the drawing!  

The drawing had come up on the screen in a “fit-to-screen” mode. The guy sitting next to him reached over and zoomed in on a dimension that now was consuming the entire screen space! All of the air in the room was sucked in by this one fabricator as he kept repeating “I can see my drawing, no more magnifying glasses and flashlights!” Not only does this help fabricators read drawings, but it fosters better quality since the fabricators can actually see what they need to do.

“I can see my drawing, no more magnifying glasses and flashlights!” 

If you are now producing drawings electronically instead of printing, you have to consider the benefit that you are no longer spending time and money on producing the paper drawings. This benefit alone will pay for your tablets! Let’s think through this. Calculate how much you spend on producing drawings every year. Of course, the larger the drawing, the larger the cost just for paper and toner. 

Don’t forget the printer itself!  Then calculate the amount of time you spend in actually printing the drawings and then distributing them throughout the shop. Compare that to the cost of using tablets in your shop.  In the situations I’ve looked at, the cost of tablets was easily paid by the lack of printing paper copies.  

  1. Track production LIVE

Not only do fabricators have direct access to the drawings, but they now have the ability to track production…LIVE! How many times has the following scenario played out in your shop?  The production meeting is in the morning and we need to get a summary of where we are in production on our projects. A call goes out to the shop supervisor: “Hey Jim, where are we on Project 1234?” The shop supervisor reaches up into the clouds and pulls out a number and tells you that you are about 50% complete. You plug that into your spreadsheet and see that you are way ahead on the hours! Awesome! 

Next week, you make the same call and hear that you’re still 50% complete, but they’ve been working on it all week. What happened? Well, the shop supervisor didn’t know the full scope of the project and was 50% complete on what had been released. Now you’re all messed up and don’t know where you are on the project! Confidence in your numbers now plummets and you’re literally planning based on your gut and hoping you come out ahead.

Tablets alleviate this problem. As a piece rolls through your shop, each employee now logs when he completed it at their particular station (e.g. saw/drill, fit, fab, paint, etc.). 

Now you can watch the production rolling through your shop and KNOW the true percentage completed…can I say it again, LIVE! 

Now you can plan your production much better so that you can make decisions or gain insight into your progress such as: Should we work overtime this week? 

  1. Live Inventory

Not only do you have live tracking of production, but you now have live inventory! One of the biggest issues in a shop is the tracking of inventory. Too often, fabricators have no idea what inventory they have in their yard. They don’t trust what is in their inventory, so they have to go out into the yard to see what inventory they have so they can then make decisions on what to order. However, they failed to realize that the inventory they just counted was actually purchased for another project, and you’re now going to run into a shortage of material down the road.  

Tablets allow you to receive material into inventory as it is coming off the truck. Perhaps I can even set up automatic reporting now so the production manager knows when his material hits the yard! Tablets also allow you to remove material from inventory immediately following the cut process. AND, the remnant is automatically put back into inventory. Also, where is that W14x22 in the yard? Pull the inventory up on the tablet and it tells you it is in area 25. Nice! I need to move that to the saw lay down, so we do a quick move in the system to show it was moved. Your inventory is now live and kickin’!  

When you sit down and compare the benefits of a tablet system to paper, the benefits quickly exceed the costs of putting the tablets in place. Calculate it for yourself. How much is it worth to increase quality, ensure a live inventory, ensure live tracking of production, and have greater insight into your entire production process? Priceless!  

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About the Author

Ricky Horton

Ricky Horton is a full-time consultant specializing in the implementation and design of information systems surrounding the Tekla PowerFab suite of products. He has almost three decades of experience as an executive in the structural steel industry and over a decade in utilizing Tekla Powerfab.

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